Starbucks plan to sell flat whites prompts fears about whether America knows what they are

Company is introducing the flat white, its latest attempt to woo coffee snobs

Starbucks is to introduce the flat white, as part of its plans to woo serious coffee drinkers. But the plans could be foiled by the fact that Americans don’t know what the drink is — and neither does anybody else, really.

The flat white has long been missing from many American coffee shops, but has steadily been catching on. But nobody is really sure what it is.

The announcement that the drink would arrive on January 6th was followed by a run of explainers telling American coffee-drinkers what goes into a flat white.

Visitors to the US and Australia often complain about the lack of flat whites, according to baristas, and the coffee is also catching on among pickier American coffee drinkers.

The lack of proper coffee has been blamed for Starbucks failure in Australia, which claims to have invented the flat white in the 1980s. Starbucks sold its last 24 shops in the country last year.

Flat whites. But what does that mean?

“Its failure in the Australian market was put down to trying to open too many stores too quickly, and trying to impose its weak, syrupy products in a market that prefers strong, espresso-based coffees,” wrote

But Americans might not have it entirely wrong, since there are a number of different things that flat white can mean.

The key parts are espresso shots, plus a small amount of foam. The foam is less than in a cappuccino, and usually drier, which is where the “flat” part of the name comes from.

Some have even claimed that the Americans already have the coffee that everyone else calls a flat white. “The American latte is nearly an exact replica of what we call a flat white,” claims coffee writer Jennifer Murray.

The Starbucks one will feature two “ristretto” shots, a smaller and more concentrated version of an espresso shot, plus a thick milk called microfoam. The microfoam is the key part of the flat white, Allie Caran, who gives classes at the Brooklyn branch of Australian coffee brand Toby’s Estate, told Bon Appétit.


The flat white will join Starbucks’ menu as a permanent drink, rather than a limited edition part of the menu, from January 6th. It will be available at all Starbucks stores in the US.

The move is the latest attempt by Starbucks to win over coffee drinkers. In December, it announced its high-end Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, a posher version of its normal stores that will sell more expensive coffee.